Postseason basketball is all about adjustments. Series can be won or lost by the type -- and timing -- of adjustments coaches make. During Game 6 between the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, Sixers coach Doc Rivers made a major adjustment by turning to Tyrese Maxey, and it paid off in a big way as the rookie guard proved to be a difference-maker in the contest.
Heading into the game, Maxey had played a total of 33 minutes and scored just 13 total points over the first five games of the series against Atlanta, and as a result he was largely a non-factor. However, when the Sixers needed a spark in Game 6 after falling behind early with their season hanging in the balance, Maxey was ready to deliver. He entered the game around the midway point of the first quarter with the Sixers down 20-8, and right away he provided some instant offense. Maxey went 3 for 3 from the floor and scored six points in that first quarter to keep them afloat while their other key contributors were struggling to produce points. His production in the first quarter gave the Sixers some much-needed momentum that they were able to carry over to the rest of the game en route to a season-saving 104-99 win.
Maxey was also huge for Philadelphia in the fourth quarter of the contest. He played over 10 minutes in that final quarter and scored seven points (it would have been 10, but one of his made 3s didn't count because Lou Williams committed an off-ball foul before the shot was released), including four clutch, game-sealing free throws. In all, Maxey played 29 minutes and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block. He was a game-high plus-12 during his time on the floor, and he also played some tenacious defense on Hawks star guard Trae Young in the guts of the game.
Maxey's play was a major catalyst for Philadelphia, and he was a huge part of the reason why the Sixers were able to win the game, and force a decisive Game 7 in Philadelphia on Sunday night. Afterward, Maxey's teammates were eager to give him his flowers.
"He just had guts out there. He had confidence," Tobias Harris said of Maxey. "The minute he stepped on that floor, he gave us a boost. ... He wasn't scared of the moment, wasn't shy at all. He got to his spots and just gave us a big boost of energy out there and that helped us. ... He was the spark of the game for us."
"Without Tyrese, we also don't win that game," Joel Embiid added. "Maxey was huge tonight. He made plays for others offensively and defensively, pushing the pace when Ben was in foul trouble. I'm really happy for him."
As a 20-year-old rookie on a deep contending team, Maxey's playing time was inconsistent all season, but he made the most of it, and he's always ready when his number is called, as evidenced by his performance on Friday night. His poise in what amounted to the biggest game that he ever played in was extremely impressive, albeit not out of character. No moment has seemed too big for Maxey this season, and Game 6 was yet another example of that.
"I've been saying it all year, I have one choice and that's to stay ready for what the coaching staff tells me to do," Maxey said after the game. "... Preparation prevents poor performance. My dad told me that when I was in second grade, and I'll never forget it. That is why I was in the gym every single day, every off day. There are no days off. The same thing will happen tomorrow. Once you prepare properly, you build your own confidence. That's how you become successful."
As a guard capable of creating his own offense, either by beating his man off the dribble and getting into the paint or making plays out of the pick-and-roll, Maxey provides the Sixers with a dynamic dimension that they otherwise lack. This is an issue that they've tried to address for years now, dating back to when they selected Markelle Fultz with the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. When he plays like he did in Game 6, Maxey looks a lot like the player that they hoped Fultz would be.
Philadelphia's glaring lack of offensive creation down the stretch was a big part of the reason that it blew 18-plus point leads in Games 5 and 6 against Atlanta. Had Maxey been in there, perhaps things would have gone differently. Better late than never, though, and now that the Sixers have seen just how effective Maxey can be in postseason play, he should be in line for major minutes again in Game 7, and beyond, if the Sixers are able to advance.